Alberta animal rescues struggling to survive perfect storm of adversity

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WATCH: Animal rescue groups in Alberta are desperate for support, as pet surrenders reach new heights and donations stall. Sarah Ryan explains the scary reality animal advocates are facing. – Apr 18, 2022

For many animal rescues across Alberta, every day right now is a struggle thanks to a myriad of problems.

“This is hands down the hardest time that we’ve ever faced,” explained Erin Deems, co-executive director of Saving Grace Animal Society. “Normally we have one thing working against us, but right now in the rescue community it seems like everything is working against us,”

The central Alberta rescue has seen a large drop in adoptions , which is a huge change from the height of the pandemic.

“A puppy would be on our website for 24 hours before, and now we’re finding they can be upwards of two to three weeks,” Deems said.

On top of that, donations are way down. Last month, they only covered 40 per cent of Saving Grace’s medical bills.

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“In all reality, if we continue to have more months like our last few months, we wouldn’t make it to the end of the year.”

In addition, the Alix-based rescue group is having to drive further and further afield to find vets to treat its animals due to a shortage of veterinarians.

But perhaps the worst issue is all of the surrender requests.

“We’re just seeing an unfortunate increase in COVID returns. We’re getting a lot of people who adopted puppies from us. Now the dogs are about two years old and we’re seeing behavioural problems in them,” Deems said.

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“They’re taking a lot more time in our system to be evaluated, be retrained and then go up for adoption to find another home.”

It’s the same situation over at the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS).

Deanna Thompson is the executive director of AARCS, with shelters in both Calgary and Edmonton.

READ MORE: Alberta animal rescue organization opens first Edmonton facility

“I think people have gone back to work, they’re going on vacation, interest rates, the price of gas and groceries, the war – all of those things have got people’s attention elsewhere, and we’re seeing really tough times here. Actually, the worst I’ve seen,” said Thompson.

Right now, the rescues are also dealing with kitten season.

“We’re getting all those calls for stray pregnant cats and kittens and it’s heartbreaking to have to say no,” Thompson explained.

The problem is that the rescues are completely full and there simply is no more space.

“Our phone is ringing non-stop with people looking to surrender both dogs and cats, but we can’t bring any more in because we’re at capacity here in the shelter, as well as in foster care,” Thompson said.

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Kath Oltsher is the co-founder of ZOE’s Animal Rescue Society.

“We’re struggling. We’re full to bursting,” Oltsher said.

She said ZOE’s prides itself on taking in animals with behavioural issues that other groups can’t. But right now, that’s not possible.

“Because we say no, there is nowhere else for them to go,” Oltsher explained. “We’re trying very hard to stay positive.”

Saving Grace had to shut down its intakes weeks ago.

“We are on a triage system. So that means if the animal will die if we don’t step up, we will take it. But right now that’s all we’re doing. And that is keeping us more than busy itself,” Deems said.

All three of the rescues desperately need foster homes.

“If there’s a foster home that comes forward, we can move one dog out, that’s one more life saved,” Thompson said.

“It’s generally very short term, it’s two weeks. You open your home, we supply everything, all you supply is the love. It just allows us to continue rescuing, it allows us to take in more animals,” Deems added.

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READ MORE: Alberta animal shelter at capacity because of extreme cold weather

And if you’re able to adopt, that will also open up another spot for an animal in need.

Those unable to take in a pet are still encouraged to consider volunteering — walking dogs, cuddling cats, doing laundry or organizing fundraisers.

Donations are also vital.

Right now, ZOE’s is running a 50/50, Saving Grace has a Mother’s Day raffle and AARCS is holding its annual spring lottery.

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